What meat should I feed my pets ?
This is a question I am asked constantly by concerned pet owners, particularly when they have made the choice to swap to a natural, raw meat based diet. When making a decision about which meat(s) to feed, there are several key issues to be taken into consideration :
- Nutritional factors
- Farming practices
In this paper I will cover the most common meat sources available, including Chicken, Pork, Fish, Rabbit, Offal, Beef, Sheep, Kangaroo and Tripe and discuss the pro’s and con’s of each type.
1. CHICKEN :
Chicken meat and by products are the most common source of meat used in canned and dry pet foods. This is primarily driven by price. Chickens are the most cheaply and intensively farmed (mass produced) of all the domesticated animal species. The commercial chicken industry is massive, and the housing and farming of these chickens bares no resemblance to the traditional image of chooks running around the farmyard. Commercial “battery” chickens are raised and housed in sheds (in cages) their entire life, and are fed a man made diet from birth. The birds today have been selected and engineered to be fast growing, producing maximum sized breast and leg/thigh cuts, and to a lesser extent, wings. Most chicken meat in canned and processed dry foods is used as chicken meal (powdered meat meal), which utilises the carcass, some offal, and the beaks, feet and feathers.
Fresh chicken mince, available in most pet outlets (more often frozen) is generally just the carcass portion put through a mincer, so it contains meat, fat, cartilage and bone.
Chicken mince is very cheap, retailing from $1.50 per kg upwards, and as such, is commonly used by both pet food processors and pet owners alike.
Nutritionally, chicken mince is questionable. It is high in fat (18%+), and can be higher again in pet minces, where skin and fat often makes up a proportion of the mix. Of greatest concern is the diets the chickens are fed. The man made pellets and crumbles the birds are raised on are geared to maximise growth rate, and meat yield, from breast and thigh cuts. There is little emphasis placed on nutritional value, as taste, texture and yield are all that the producers are interested in for the end, human consumption product The diets are so basic in many minerals, that calcium density in the bones of the birds can drop from an expected 20% down to as little as 4%. These birds see little (if any) in the way of natural sunlight, and most likely suffer from vitamin D deficiency. There is no green grass or shoots to feed on, and no natural anti oxidants.
On top of this, the diets have a constant level of antibiotic included, to try and minimise the death toll, and a range of “growth promotants” included (not true “hormones”, as they have been outlawed in most countries). Also, there is every chance that a significant proportion of the protein in these pelleted rations is actually derived from meat meal – and I haven’t met too many carnivorous chickens in my time??
In short, battery raised chicken meat is only as good as the rations they are fed on, and given that these birds are slaughtered at 12 weeks of age, there is little chance the rations are designed for good long term health. We should not be fooled by the term “free range”, these birds are still raised in sheds, and still fed the same rations, they are simply allowed to eat the pellets from the ground, and live in an open plan shed.
Chickens are a natural reservoir for salmonella, the bacteria being commonly found in the gut and faecal material. When the birds are stressed, the bacteria can multiply in large numbers, which creates a food hygiene issue. During the slaughter of birds, the viscera (organs and intestines) are removed from the abdominal cavity, and it is quite common for fluid from the intestinal tract (containing bacteria, and often, salmonella) to spill out onto the abdominal cavity wall, thus contaminating the carcass.
SUMMARY – CHICKEN
The modern farming practices of the intensive poultry industry leaves a lot to be desired, both on a nutritional level, and on an ethical level. The stress levels in housed birds are extreme, and there is the issue of bacterial contamination at processing. This is the primary reason why chicken mince spoils very quickly, and is most commonly sold frozen. Luckily for our pets, cats will simply not eat “off” meat, and dogs have a cast iron constitution, which is nowhere near as sensitive to the presence of bacteria, even salmonella, as humans. A large quantity of chicken mince is produced and fed on a daily basis throughout Australia and on the whole, the overall health of dogs and cats does not suffer. Chicken mince has its place, as a cheap ADDITION to the diet and as long as it is handled correctly, frozen, and thawed out to feed, it is relatively safe to use. However, it should definitely not form a major part of any pet’s diet and I would definitely rate chicken as the least suitable of all fresh meats.
2. PORK :
Pork has never made much headway into the pet food arena. Pigs do carry a significant level of parasites, both in the gut, but also throughout the meat and organs, and it is for this reason they have been seen as “un-healthy”. Meat meal made from pig carcasses is used in the manufacture of some pet treats, but to a minor degree. Pork is again high in fat, and often not well tolerated,
digestion wise, by many pets.
Pigs are also very intensively farmed in modern countries, and suffer a similar fate as chickens, being raised and housed indoors, and being fed a man made ration, complete with antibiotics and growth promoters. Whilst not as severely malnourished as chickens (given they must be raised to a much older age for sale), the meat still has the downfall of only being as good as the rations they are fed on.
Pigs are also highly sensitive to stress, suffering from a condition known as PSS (porcine stress syndrome), which can cause severe detrimental changes to the meat at slaughter.
SUMMARY – PORK
Of no real consequence as it is little used, questionable in quality and rates poorly as a choice amongst fresh meats. Does not even have the price advantage of chicken – not recommended at all.
3. FISH :
Fish and fish meal has long been used in canned and processed dry pet food. It is commonly used as a protein source, and flavouring agent, in many dry cat foods. Fish meal is very cheap, as are the small bait fish used in tinned cat food.
Most fish fed to cats and dogs is tinned, not fresh, and is therefore not as nutritionally valuable. Many people used sardines or tuna, assuming that the naturally high levels of fish oil are of benefit – in truth, the cooking temperatures used in the canning process have significantly, if not totally,
reduced the omega 3 content of the oil.
One must also be aware of the environment in which the fish is caught – levels of toxic heavy metals, like mercury etc, can be quite high in some parts of the world. It is also worthy of note that freshwater fish do contain levels of thiaminase, which can cause vitamin B1 deficiency if used exclusively as a diet.
As far as suitability goes, here lies an interesting paradox. Whilst cats certainly enjoy the taste of fish (probably the salt), they are the last animal to be seen getting their feet wet – so we must conclude that fish is actually not a natural part of the cat’s diet. Cats can also react allergically to some of the deep water fish, like tuna, which can present as a generalised skin problem, with
itching around the head and ears.
Dogs may make the occasional attempts at catching fish in fresh water streams, but the only true fisherman are their close relatives, the bears.
SUMMARY – FISH
Fish meat is a very good source of protein, low in fat, and high in vitamins and minerals – when it is first caught. If you were to buy fresh fish and lightly cook it for your pets, it would be very good. Cost and effort may prove to be prohibitive to this practice. Therefore, the realities of inconvenience make it unrealistic, however, some fresh fish from the family meal from time to time, would go down a treat and most certainly be of more good than harm. Rating – good as an occasional “treat” meal, as long as its fresh and only lightly cooked.
4. RABBIT :
Until recently, wild rabbit has been widely available in Australia, having bred into plague proportions in this country, and is considered vermin in agricultural circles. However, the recent introduction of Calici virus has decimated the rabbit population, and supply of rabbit meat has largely been replaced with farmed rabbit, which unfortunately, falls victim to all the same problems as intensively farmed chickens and pigs (un-natural housing in cages, man made diets etc.
In the wild, rabbits are an ideally suited prey source, and have historically been a favourite prey animal of both dogs and cats.
SUMMARY - RABBIT
Wild rabbit would have to be one of the most suitable all round meat sources for both dogs and cats. It is a free range, organic meat, low in fat, and high in nutritional value. However, as it is now virtually unavailable in Australia, any rabbit meat available for pet meat would most likely be from farmed rabbits, hence, all the advantages just mentioned are lost. If you can catch your own – highly rated.
5. OFFAL :
Offal is the collective term used for organ meats like liver, kidney, heart, lung etc. As a general rule, offal meats should be purchased from your local butcher, and be HC grade, as the organs are often home to various parasites, and HC grade organ meats have had additional inspection processes applied to ensure they are free of parasites.
SUMMARY – OFFAL
Offal is very rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, and ideally, should make up about 20% of a dog or cats meat intake.
6. BEEF :
Beef by-products is one of the most widely available and most commonly used meat sources for processed (canned and dry) pet food.
By-products are the non-meat parts of the body like offal, bone, feet and horns. They are dehydrated and turned into meat meal, mixed with a high content of cereal and grain and cooked at extreme temperatures to produce the relatively poor quality products on offer throughout supermarkets.
Fresh beef is not as commonly used as pet food, mainly due to price constraints and limited availability (most beef is sold for human consumption-HC). Typically, beef that ends up as pet food is from older cows which have been culled from a herd due to poor production or those that are simply not suitable for human consumption (older beef tends to be tougher, and have a stronger flavour).
Nutritionally, beef can be quite good, if it is raised naturally on pasture. It has good amounts of protein, and can have quite high fat content (14%+). Some fresh pet food beef may come from grain fed beef. Concerns on its use as pet food relate back to the unnatural diet fed (high grain, little if any pasture), and the significant use of antibiotics in the grain ration (to prevent several illnesses that relate to the unnatural feeding style .
The processing of beef does have a few negatives – primarily the requirement for transport, often over long distances. Transport is quite stressful to cattle, and stress produces physiological changes in the body (as a result of the release of cortisol and adrenaline) which can negatively impact on the quality and consistency of beef.
As far as suitability goes, there is no doubt a pack of dogs would be able to pull down a calf, or even a sick or injured cow, and as such, beef can be seen as a natural source of prey.
SUMMARY - BEEF
The majority of beef is still pasture raised, and as long as the pasture is of reasonable quality, the nutritional profile of the beef will be good. I do have concerns with the practice of feedlot / grain fed beef, as the aim of this practice is in producing high fat (marbled) beef using prepared “pelleted” rations, and as such, the balance of the diet, and the additives used, must be questioned. Overall, beef can be rated as one of the better meats to feed and even with its negatives, it certainly possesses enormous advantages over feeding canned or processed diets.
7. SHEEP (Lamb / Mutton) :
Lamb has only more recently become a popular meat source for pet food. The majority of sheep meat used for pet food is mutton (older sheep). The primary reason for its introduction into pet food has been to introduce new protein sources – driven by the ever increasing incidence of allergic skin disease in dogs (and cats). Special formulas have been introduced onto the market to try and help alleviate allergic skin conditions, by providing a source of meat protein that the pet has not eaten before (known as a unique protein). The market leaders in this area have been lamb and rice formulas, and fish and potato.
Processing of lamb is again much the same as beef, with travel times being one of the main disadvantages. They can also have a tendency to have higher residual chemical levels, due to the higher requirement for chemical drenching to control intestinal worms in young sheep.
Lamb is very much an ideal prey animal for dogs, and this is evident from the large stock losses attributed to foxes and wild dogs.
SUMMARY - SHEEP
Nutritionally, sheep meat (mutton or lamb) is very good. It does have a high fat content, which is not necessarily a negative, but it would not be a good choice for those portley pooches needing to loose weight.
It is all pasture grown, under good conditions, and the meat is of high quality. Lamb shanks are a common choice for a good meaty bone.
Mutton or lamb rates highly amongst the fresh meats and would be a good choice for pets with skin and coat problems.
8. KANGAROO :
We now come to my preferred choice of meats – kangaroo. Fresh kangaroo meat has been widely used in Australia as fresh pet meat for over 30 years, and more recently, it has made significant in-roads into the pet food industry, with sales of roo meat in supermarkets escalating dramatically over the past 5 years.
Kangaroo meat is widely available in Australia at most pet supply outlets, and in supermarkets. Due to increasing demand, the price of kangaroo has unfortunately increased significantly over the past 2 years, now retailing for $4.00 + per kg. Roo meat has never really been used in processed canned and dry foods, most likely due to cost and price levels, as the beef by-products they do use are cheaper for the major can manufacturers to source.
Nutritionally, kangaroo meat is superior to all the farmed meats. It is low in fat (3 - 4%), high in protein, and high in vitamins and minerals. Because kangaroo is not farmed, the meat is truly free range, and organic. Kangaroos graze on a very wide variety of pastures, wild grasses, shrubs and trees, and as a result of this variety, they enjoy excellent health, and their meat has a wide array of macro and micro nutrients.
Kangaroo is a highly suitable meat source, and is a natural prey animal of the wild Australian dogs – the Dingo. Kangaroo is considered a “cooling” meat, as it lives in a very dry and arid environment, and as such, is ideal for treating pets with food allergies. Also, because it has never been widely used in processed pet foods, it is also a very unique source of animal protein, and is very valuable when formulating a diet for pets with food allergies.
Kangaroo is not farmed in Australia, hence the meat itself is considered “wild game” meat, and is, by nature, free range and organic. Kangaroo numbers have escalated in Australia since the 19th Century, with modern farming practices opening up large areas of grazing land.
Culling of kangaroos is vital, both to prevent over-competition with domesticated farm animals (primarily sheep and cattle), but also to prevent massive overpopulation in good seasons, where kangaroo numbers can escalate out of control. Culling of Kangaroos is a very closely controlled, government regulated, exercise. Every year, aerial surveillance is undertaken to record accurate population numbers, and a cull quota is established for each state, to maintain an appropriate sustainable base population. Kangaroos are shot in the wild by professionally accredited shooters; every shooter is licensed and must purchase government issued ear tags, which are immediately attached to any kangaroo that is taken. It is the specific number of tags issued that, in turn, control the cull numbers. Kangaroos must be killed with a single clean head shot. There is no stressful period of mustering, handling or transport involved at all.
The kangaroos are transported to a local chilled container, which is then transported to the local processing plant. Every animal is inspected by a government appointed meat inspector, and then approved for processing. Carcasses to be used for human consumption are processed in separate production areas, and have a second inspection before being cleared for HC. The quality of meat used for HC is no different to that harvested for pet food, and differs only in the processing and inspection stages.
SUMMARY – KANGAROO
Without a doubt, the best fresh meat available for pets, anywhere in the world. We are indeed fortunate in this country to have such a high quality meat source, correctly handled and inspected, that is available at a price where the choice cuts of meat itself can be used for pet food.
Perfectly suited for both dogs and cats – rates as THE BEST.
9. TRIPE :
Tripe is the common term for the stomach lining of cattle and sheep.
Most tripe sold for HC has been washed in boiling water and bleached. Green tripe is the term used for un-processed tripe and is highly nutritious as a meat source. It is very low in fat (2%), highly glandular (contains enzymes), and is loaded with probiotic micro-organisms. Tripe is also a ‘white” meat (meaning it has a low amount of myoglobin, the protein that makes red meat red), and has historically been used for dogs with sensitive digestive tracts, or food allergies. I have utilised tripe for some time now as an alternate to kangaroo meat for treating difficult cases of allergic dermatitis in dogs (and occasionally cats) with great results.
SUMMARY – TRIPE
Tripe is very affordable, but can be difficult to source, and this is one of its main limitations. An excellent source of nutrition and, if available, should be very highly regarded as a fresh meat for pets.
Your decision to start your puppy or kitten, or, switch from processed canned and supermarket dry foods to a good quality diet based on fresh meat, is commendable. It will give you great satisfaction when you see the health and wellbeing of your loved pet over the duration of its true and correct life span. You will also notice the last one third of your pet’s life will too be spent in good health, unlike those that continue to be fed processed pet food and whose owners, unfortunately have come to expect very poor health in older pets as the norm.
A good raw meat based diet and some raw meaty bones is indeed, the perfect diet for a domestic dog or cat.
To finish by referring to the actual question at hand….. “Which raw meat should I feed”, following is my summary and overall rating.
|| very, very good
|| the perfect
|| also very, very good. Its difficulty in sourcing sees it score
|| if obtained correctly, an important part of the diet
|| very good, the best of the farmed meats
|| next best of the farmed meats
|| only if purchased fresh, then it is good, owing to
inconvenience and price -
|| excellent if from wild rabbits, owing to extreme difficulty in procuring
|| still better than canned and processed, as long as it's fed as part of the diet only and is purchased and stored frozen. It’s related health and ethics issues see it rate poorly against all other good meats on offer. It's cheap though
|| the least suitable and not recommended at all
I trust this information has been informative and worthwhile. Happy feeding and good health to your pets, they are in your hands, with a good diet, all you need add is a family for exercise and love.
Dr. Bruce Syme
All Natural Pet Supplies